Cambodia welcomed nearly 1.576 million international visitors in the first 10 months of this year – up 991.13 per cent year-on-year but still down 70.24 per cent compared to the same period in the record-breaking year of 2019 – of which 62.97 per cent were from Thailand, Vietnam and Laos, the three bordering countries, according to the Ministry of Tourism.
With all the uncertainty in the world stemming from geopolitical conflicts, fragile economic growth, and ongoing Covid-19-induced challenges, the tourism sector does not expect all that many travellers from distant destinations such as the EU and US, says Pacific Asia Travel Association (PATA) Cambodia chapter chairman Thourn Sinan.
Of the January-October arrivals, 1.199 million or 76.06 per cent declared “holiday” as their purpose of visit, 321,180 or 20.38 per cent marked “business”, while 56,135 or 3.56 per cent indicated other motives.
Vietnam accounted for 341,953 or 21.70 per cent (251,923 holiday; 89,596 business; 434 other), down 52.49 per cent from the corresponding 2019 period, while Laos represented 59,368 or 3.77 per cent (58,112 holiday; 1,224 business; 32 other), down 77.53 per cent versus the analogous 2019 period.
By contrast, the number of visitors from Thailand was up 77.54 per cent from the same time in 2019, at 590,984 or 37.50 per cent of the total (568,075 holiday; 21,718 business; 1,191 other).
According to Sinan, it’ll be largely up to visitors from the other nine ASEAN countries, especially the three neighbouring countries, to support the local tourism industry in the near-term and help heal the wounds left by Covid-19.
“Holidaymakers from more distant countries, including the Chinese who used to flock to Cambodia, are now dealing with issues in their own countries,” he said.
October alone accounted for 19.68 per cent of the 10-month total for international visitors, at 310,182, up 15.96 per cent over September (267,500), which was up 4.98 per cent from August (254,813).
Of note, if the number of international visitors for each remaining month this year is equal to or greater than the October figure, the full-year total would pass 2.196 million, or 9.82 per cent more than the two-million upper bound of the estimated range offered by the ministry in September. This would also be a more than 11-fold increase from the 2021 total of 196,495.
For now, Sinan suggested, as international tourists return in greater numbers, Cambodia needs to beef up law enforcement to inspire confidence in visitors while they’re here.
To enhance the allure of the Kingdom as a travel destination, the government plans to hold two major tourism-related events in Preah Sihanouk province this month: the World-Bays Club’s 2022 World Congress from December 9-14 and the 9th Sea Festival from December 9-11 – the first since 2019, before Covid-19.
The government is also considering a pilot scheme that would allow Thai tourists with official residence in any of the seven provinces that border Cambodia to travel overland to Siem Reap province, especially Angkor Archaeological Park, with only a border pass and not a passport.
The idea was raised at a September 19 plenary meeting of the inter-ministerial commission tasked with facilitating travel into Cambodia at all ports of entry, which was held at the ministry and presided over by its chairman Thong Khon, who is also the tourism minister.
Siem Reap does not border Thailand, which would require participants of the scheme to enter Cambodia through one of the seven provinces along the frontier.
In clockwise order, the seven Thai provinces that border Cambodia are: Trat, Chanthaburi, Sa Kaeo, Buriram, Surin, Sisaket and Ubon Ratchatani. Conversely, the seven Cambodian provinces that border Thailand are: Koh Kong, Pursat, Battambang, Pailin, Banteay Meanchey, Oddar Meanchey and Preah Vihear.